Mineralized rods and cones suggest colour vision in a 300 Myr-old fossil fish

Nat Commun. 2014 Dec 23;5:5920. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6920.


Vision, which consists of an optical system, receptors and image-processing capacity, has existed for at least 520 Myr. Except for the optical system, as in the calcified lenses of trilobite and ostracod arthropods, other parts of the visual system are not usually preserved in the fossil record, because the soft tissue of the eye and the brain decay rapidly after death, such as within 64 days and 11 days, respectively. The Upper Carboniferous Hamilton Formation (300 Myr) in Kansas, USA, yields exceptionally well-preserved animal fossils in an estuarine depositional setting. Here we show that the original colour, shape and putative presence of eumelanin have been preserved in the acanthodii fish Acanthodes bridgei. We also report on the tissues of its eye, which provides the first record of mineralized rods and cones in a fossil and indicates that this 300 Myr-old fish likely possessed colour vision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Calcium Carbonate / chemistry*
  • Color
  • Color Vision / physiology*
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology
  • Fishes / classification
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Fossils*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Phylogeny
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / ultrastructure*


  • Calcium Carbonate